On Becoming a Post Secondary Pedagogist: Working with Students, Faculty, and Institutional Realities

Continuing the collective work that has been ongoing since 2018, post-secondary institution (PSI) pedagogists with the Pedagogist Network of Ontario work within programs that educate, initiate, and think with early childhood education students as they begin to get to know the contours and inheritances of pedagogy, curriculum, and relations in education. In particular, pedagogists in post-secondary institutions work to reimagine practicum as a space for reconfiguring how the education of future educators unfolds and how early childhood educators, students and faculty members might create innovative practices. This role is unique as pedagogists must grapple with and disrupt the taken for granted structures of both early childhood education and a post-secondary institution, and occupy what is made in the collision of these two structures. Importantly, a post-secondary pedagogist centers questions of pedagogy in the collaborative work of re-creating practicum: what orients our ideas of the intentions and purposes of practicum? What relations are possible and impossible in practicum? How might we co-construct alternative ways of realizing a practicum experience?

In the interview that follows, Cristina Delgado Vintimilla and Nicole Land speak with post-secondary institution pedagogists Paolina Camuti-Cull and Olga Rossovska. Our intention for this conversation is to trace how we are each in different – careful and non-innocent – relations to some of the pivotal concepts that we ‘do’ or enliven in the process of becoming a post-secondary pedagogist. We hope that you will notice the intricate and risky ways that Paolina and Olga do the layered work of noticing how concepts work in the status-quo, offering some questions and practices for unsettling these concepts, and turning toward thinking alternative possibilities for coming together in practicum and post-secondary institutions.

CRISTINA AND NICOLE: Beginning in 2018, you have been engaging in processes of becoming a post-secondary pedagogist. You have been exposed to an array of theory, concepts, and ideas throughout this time. We have thought with “reading” these concepts as a pedagogist might: attuned to the connections, tensions, overlaps, and disjuncture between concepts as we put them to work thinking their possibilities for curriculum-making and pedagogies relevant to our places and relations. Can you please share one or two ideas or concepts that are sticking with you within your process of becoming a post-secondary pedagogist? How do you see these concepts enlivening or provoking your thinking and practice within your institution?

PAOLINA: I have been most stirred by the concept of finding meaning in “empty space,” in the silence that is found lingering “in-between” the language used in text(s); propelled to uncover meaning that is unnoticed (Aoki, 2009). As a pedagogist, I am interested in considering what is not made visible and what is absent. I am motivated to look beyond what is evident. This creates tension, uncertainty, and discomfort. This process disrupts how I experience language. As a pedagogist, in this “becoming” I find myself increasingly attuned to the absolutes used to define and describe our practice. I am made to sit inside words and phrases such as “child centred,” and “teaching;” to dismantle their meaning and consider their implications. Historically, I have associated myself with specific models of pedagogy, asserting that these applications are based on theoretically sound rationales, and applying the language associated with these models. In this “becoming” a pedagogist I bring to question, in such absolutes what is being created or recreated? What then is missed? What possibilities are lost or silenced? How does this influence our humanity? Our exposures suggest we think with these questions in mind in our curriculum making.  

In this becoming, I come to realize that it is in the “in-between” space of such absolutes that we come to uncover new possibilities. In this entanglement, I am compelled by Derrida to consider how meaning is constructed with “other” (Tarc, 2015, p.7). Foucault brings intensity and urgency to this thinking as we consider the role of socio-economic systems in affecting language, especially in post-secondary education, with colonial and neo-liberal intentionality.

With a gentle approach, we sit with students, faculty and other pedagogists to think together about the language we use to bring meaning to our curriculum making and the relations that are created within this context. We search to uncover the hidden, quiet, silent meanings that remain unavailable and unnoticed. We seek using inquiry, what we have not thought about rather than what is visible and considered known. We are encouraged to read, to learn, together so that our insights can be deepened, and to know our history and its relation to our “now.”

OLGA: Thank you for this question. Always being-in-question (Vintimilla, 2018) is a concept that has become a part of who I am and how I am thinking as a post-secondary pedagogist. For example, something that I have repeatedly been going back to is the meaning we, as a society, as faculty and as independent individuals, place behind ‘quality’ in education. When unpacking this seemingly easy question as a pedagogist, I arrive to more questions than answers, with these creating tensions and challenging what I and others are used to – an instant and satisfying response. With our faculty group we are constantly thinking about who the student in our classroom is, who we are as faculty, whom are we thinking with and what stories we share – questions that do not always have straight answers, questions that expose our vulnerabilities, our professional tendency of romanticizing education, and our struggle to have a democratic classroom in a neoliberal society. From there we arrive to more questions, those we often think with in our pedagogist network gatherings, questions of whether we are consciously privileging certain ways of thinking and being in education and how this puts us on the path of producing a particular kind of Early Childhood Educator, most often the one with an overwhelming desire to comply, to do, and to be good (Osgood, 2006). However, being in question is not simply or thoughtlessly questioning our ways of being and doing in education, of planning curriculum and striving to graduate a particular kind of professional. Being in question means that I, as a pedagogist, am entangled with thoughts of others – fellow pedagogists, theories, provocations, and always the pedagogical commitments of our program. Therefore, in being in question I am creating conditions in which we ethically and critically think about the meanings and possibilities for curriculum and pedagogy we place when interpreting, for example, quality in education. 

CRISTINA AND NICOLE: You both referred to two different, yet key concepts, that have been part of the discussions with PSI pedagogists: inhabiting “in between” spaces and “being in question”. These are very generative concepts and, at the same time, their praxis is not easy. Being in question can be uncomfortable and vulnerable. In between spaces can ask us to face tensions. We are wondering about how, as PSI pedagogists, you work with and through these two concepts? For example, to be in question means that one might need to take distance from discourses of mastery and control. Creating in between spaces might invite us to move beyond questions that focus on the teacher or the child. To enliven the in between and ground your work in question often requires putting the status-quo at risk while concurrently envisioning alternative ways of coming together with students and colleagues in your institutions. What does it look like, for you, to engage with such praxis as a faculty working with students?

PAOLINA: In this “in-between” space I search beyond the language used to find meaning that remains unnoticed (Aoki, 2009). As a pedagogist I am motivated to bring to question that which is not visible and perhaps not accessible using our existing language. I am interested in bringing to consciousness what Shel Silverstein refers to as our “Forgotten Language” (Tarc, 2015, p.34). Robertson equates this dynamic to an epiphany, a “psychic event” where we “re-find the contours of our internal lives” (Tarc, 2015, p.40). It is in this entanglement that we come to locate the tension between theory and practice (Pinar & Reynolds, 2015). As a pedagogist, this is where I sit with students and faculty to contemplate, evaluate, and discover together what is unnoticed in an effort to build depth in understanding and intentionality. This engagement moves our “curriculum making” beyond the “knowing” as defined by outcomes. It propels us to bring a renewed value to the notion of “experiencing.”  As a pedagogist, I have used a variety of pedagogical insights to document what is understood; to uncover what is perceived, to identify contradictions, determine what is missed, and consider new possibilities. We are encouraged to enliven concepts by painting, drawing, stitching, sculpting, story making, poetry, drama, music and movement. It is in the essence of these storylines that are built with students and colleagues through taking these contradictions and tensions seriously, that new questions, ideas, possibilities are formed: meanings that move beyond what is prescribed. This prospect is enriched when language that is absent is realized. It is in this space that we think together and build inquiry. Such exposures are deepened when “experiencing” is layered toward documenting the journey and recording a new history. 

For me, to actualize this work, I propose that students and faculty must be aware and open to their own conscious and unconscious discourse. Recognizing with empathy, that we all in varying degrees carry trauma and the experience of oppression. Such prospects can only be realized when there is a strong bond and trust within the student and faculty team. Where each member of the team feels valued, safe, a sense of belonging. We share our readings together and use strategies to encourage thinking outside of what might be considered the “status quo” using non-threatening technological tools like Miro Boards to begin our conversation. We are sensitive to the vulnerability created by the “new” and that which is unknown. 

OLGA: Our faculty team meets monthly for pedagogical gatherings where we engage in pedagogical discussions alongside various thinkers, elders, pedagogues, and community members about teaching and learning. During these gatherings we reflect, think critically, and we challenge, for example, our comforts with content we teach and being seen as an expert. We discuss our discomforts with stepping outside of our comfort zone and student reactions to these. Based on the discussions during these pedagogical gatherings, our colleagues seem to have moved away from the notion of mastery quite a while ago and our faculty has a strong focus on co-learning and co-teaching, therefore, collaborating with students. Of course, being in control and being perceived as an expert of content is comfortable, often desirable for both faculty and students, and as a faculty I am very much tempted by that notion. In my experience, when I offer space to students to take control over content or provide flexibility in choosing how they express their thinking most students feel uneasy, and while some readily accept it, they come back with a plea to “now tell us the right way to think and do”. Many are frustrated when I ask “the right way according to whom or when?”. To me this is yet another example of neoliberal transaction-like practices. The views of the role of post-secondary institutions are engraved from early on in life as places of knowledge deposition and learning about how to survive in the real world, places where educators and students voluntarily accept the role of passive mechanical beings transmitting and disseminating information. This is not unique to Early Childhood programs. Freire (2000) mentioned this concept of ‘banking’ and ‘receive, memorize, repeat’ cycles in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and he urges us to think about knowledge and learning as a process of inquiry rather than reiteration of what is already known. As Friere (2000) shares, “knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other” (p. 72). 

In education we are so deeply rooted into dominant ways of thinking, doing, and being and it will take us time to create conditions for doing curriculum otherwise in post-secondary ECE classrooms, and this means that we will continue to be in tension with others and our own thinking. Something I discuss with faculty are the stories of dominant and alternative discourses. When we think of our time together with students and the content we teach and explore with students we consider: how might one challenge something one does not understand or know about? Even the dominant discourse stories contain someone’s truths – truths one might feel comfortable with because of desire to fit in or because it fits their current conditions – and they are convenient or dominant because one does not know something else is possible… there are other ways to tell our, and other, stories. The issue with dominant stories such as content expertise, skill mastery, etc. is that these status-quo stories of childhood and education are viewed as universal truths and sometimes a two-year college diploma only scratches the surface in challenging these truths. We definitely have a lot of work ahead of us, but what I as a pedagogist am really excited about is that we are not afraid to let go of some control and try what we discuss in our pedagogical gatherings with our classes, with an intention to expose students and ourselves to tensions we are in.

CRISTINA AND NICOLE: Through practicum courses, a post-secondary pedagogist works with students and established early childhood educators to unsettle familiar, reductive, and controlling stories, theories, and relations as they matter in a particular institution, while at the same time working to set in motion alternative possibilities for being together in that institution and that answer to situated concerns, histories, and relations within that institution (university, college, child care centre). ‘Comfort’ and ’new’ can act as buzzwords within neoliberal institutions – they can be made to work as competitive contemporary jargon, as practices that continually bolster an institution’s power while carefully dictating how those within that institution must become subjects who actively contribute to maintaining the institution’s neoliberal expectations. Practicum is often conceptualized as an apprenticeship to building a student’s ‘comfort’, where a student can learn the expertise needed to thrive as an educator within education as it already exists. As a PSI pedagogist, how do you understand how ‘comfort’ works in practicum courses in your institution (through, for example: specific relations, discourses, feeling ‘good’, trust, convenience, reciprocity, living well together)? As a post-secondary pedagogist, how do you grapple with ‘comfort’ and ’new’, in conversation with practicum students, established ECEs, your institution, the PNO, and your pedagogical commitments? 

PAOLINA:  I am deeply motivated by this inquiry, and eager to consider examining the language often associated with the practicum experience from a pedagogical perspective. Commonly used words like “comfort” and “new,” are important to disassemble, particularly as they influence institutional power; they affirm the “status quo;” create a certain kind of “subject” (Mac Naughton, 2005). In my “being” with students, institutional “influencers” and within our pedagogical exposures, I am made to consider what lies in the “in-between” space and to apply a political lens to what sits visible. What happens when we consider what it means to be comfortable in the practicum and within our institution? What then does it mean to be uncomfortable?”

In our being “human,” we have learned to attach the word “comfort” to describe a state of being in all our relations. We strive to be in this state of “comfort,” in our interactions with others, with content, materials, and within environments. We need to recognize the reciprocal nature of this dynamic. Drawing on pedagogical insights, I am compelled to think together with others about the “subject” being unknowingly created and recreated. In the practicum and in our institutional dynamic what does it mean for the “subject” to be with “comfort?” Often the result is to be passive, to conform, to avoid that which is unsettling and tension provoking. To be in the world as it is. To avoid unsettling the “status quo.”

In our “living” together in this pedagogist space, I am made clearly aware that discomfort is a critical part of all “experience.” Being uneasy is vital to our practice. I am motivated as a pedagogist to bring to light the notion of finding “comfort” in discomfort which is fraught with tension, conflict, and disruption. In our pedagogist discourse we purposely “unfold” and sit with tensions to consider other ways of looking and being together. Considering, in this pedagogist engagement, what the implications are to existing ways of being and to “systems.” It is in this discourse that we come to reconsider meanings assigned to words such as “new.” In this fluid dynamic discourse, we sit “in-between” “comfort” and strive to bring to consciousness what is unnoticed, and to uncover another way of being with and outside of the status quo.  Using a range of strategies including artifacts, transcription, and storyboards that are used for reflection, in this becoming a pedagogist with others we bring to question what meanings are evident and what is missing. Through such interpretive practices using inquiry, I as a pedagogist with others deepen existing narratives and story lines and create texts that bring to life more active, dynamic, challenging opportunities to be together. We participate in new ways of thinking of the human within a power dichotomy, where disruption and challenge is seen as a catalyst for change and innovation. 

OLGA: In my classes I often address the educators’ (including myself) comfort with routine, stability, and discomfort with the new or different ways of thinking and being. I also caution that the comfort makes our profession static and the convenience of routine becomes inconvenient and quite annoying. Our conversations then shift to focus not on creating something new, but rather to engaging in reflective practice. Similarly to the post-secondary classroom when I engage with my colleagues who are Early Childhood Educators, I encourage them to see their mentorship experiences with practicum students not only as time to teach technical skills, which in my professional opinion are needed to function in a busy classroom of infants, toddlers, or preschoolers, but also as opportunities to engage in pedagogical conversations. When we value the personal and intellectual growth of ourselves and of others, and engage in reflective practice as part of ongoing professional learning, that is how we become dynamic in our practice. By creating conditions for pedagogical development I cannot say that what we as a collegial group are putting in motion is something new, but I can say that we are choosing to be part of culture of early childhood practice (Kummen & Hodgins, 2019) that considers perspectives we haven’t considered in a while or haven’t considered alongside others.


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Kummen, K., & Hodgins, B. D. (2019). Learning collectives with/in sites of practice: Beyond training and professional development. Journal of Childhood Studies, 44(1), 111-122. https://doi.org/10.18357/jcs.v44i1.18785

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